The Rose Hill Gym on the Eastern Bronx Campus of Fordham University is the oldest Division I basketball court still in use. It holds just 3,200 fans, which also makes it among the smallest in Division I.
However, in the past few years, it hasn't needed nearly that many seats. That wasn't the case last night as the Fordham Rams picked up their biggest win in years in front of a sold-out crowd after defeating St. John's, 84-81 to improve to 5-4 on the season, matching their win total of the last two seasons combined.
After firing head coach Derek Whittenburg following a sluggish start to last season, interim head coach Jared Grasso couldn't really find success either in a competitive Atlantic-10 conference, and the Rams finished with a horrid 2-26 record. However, after the end of the season, the university committed to a higher budget for the men's basketball program, meaning they could really go and spend on a new coach.
Although there was some speculation on the possibility of Bob Knight, the winningest coach of all time, coming to Fordham, it ended up being Tom Pecora, who has been the head coach at Hofstra for the past nine seasons.
Pecora had major success with the Pride, and is known as an excellent recruiter. He wanted a new challenge, and with the higher budget for the men's basketball program, it didn't take much for the desperate Rams to pull Pecora out of Long Island and into his new home at Rose Hill.
After getting off to a rough start at 2-4 following an 80-57 loss to Harvard, the Rams have reeled off three straight wins, including one last night which will go down in the history books as one of the best games ever at Fordham.
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There was a lot of hype surrounding the game, which was completely sold out two weeks before tipoff. With fans packed into their seats, and some even scalping tickets outside, these fans were hoping to see a miracle.
The young Fordham squad really didn't match up to the Red Storm, who have 10 seniors, and right from the start it seemed to be going St. John's way. They jumped out to a 30-11 lead, and led 45-33 at halftime. That lead was extended to 60-39 with just over 16 minutes to go in the second half, and it seemed as if the game might finish with a blowout. However, two 16-0 runs eventually put Fordham up 77-73 with about five minutes to go.
The Johnnies tied it up and took a one-point lead with about a minute-and-a-half left, but two free throws by Marvin Dominique and a bucket by Brenton Butler, who played with four fouls for almost the entire second half, put Fordham up three.
Two three-point attempts by Dwight Hardy couldn't find the bottom of the net as time expired, and the Fordham fans rushed the court. Alumnists such as ESPN announcer Mike Breen and YES announcer Michael Kay stayed onlooking in their seats, soaking in the victory.
Not only was this a great win and a fun one too, but it was also significant. This win will hopefully signify the turning point for this program, and the end of futility at Fordham. And hopefully, tiny Rose Hill Gym will be jam-packed again.